Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, wants us to understand, first and foremost, that there is a difference between government and politics. Government is about process. It’s about getting things done, solving problems and taking action. Politics? Whether or not we can define it, we tend to know politics when we see it. Pahlka says that when you strip away the emotions from politics, you get government. And further, she says that government gets its power from us. With this in mind, Pahlka and the rest of the Code for America team set about finding ways to help governments get things done with technology. She calls it “Peace Corps for Geeks.”
Funded by grants from corporations and foundations, the basic idea behind Code for America is to “leverage the power of the web,” to perform tasks more efficiently in an era of limited budgets. They recruit talented geeks into a year of public service to help design apps and other digital tools to improve tasks performed by government. She is convinced that Code for America can improve processes faster than the usual government bureaucracy, where the simplest change can take at least two years from idea to implementation.
An app called, Adopt-a-Hydrant, began as an effort to solve a problem in Boston where fire hydrants were buried in deep snow over the winter months. Buried hydrants were a hazard to firefighters. The app encouraged residents to shovel out their adopted hydrants after each snow fall. Residents could name their hydrants. Soon enough, they discovered that beyond Boston, the app could be used in Hawaii to get residents to make sure that tsunami sirens have working batteries. In Seattle it’s in use to help clear storm drains. Beyond that there’s Councilmatic for keeping up with legislative action, Iconathan for creating new icons – for food truck, bully and electric car among others. Pahlka sees this as the epitome of ordinary citizens taking action to help government work more efficiently.